Volume 6, Number 19 October 8, 2003
Eating away our future
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
This past week someone sent to me an article entitled "Eating fossil fuels" by Dale Allen Pfeiffer. The title seemed quite familiar since I had written a similar article two years ago called "Eating fossil fuels in a sinking ship" (fossil fuels include oil and natural gas). Both articles point out that the modern method of food production is a net consumer of energy instead of a net producer. The extra energy is coming from the consumption of fossil fuels which are non-renewable. The implications of the analysis is that if we continue this trend we will soon be eating ourselves out of a future for our children.
We have taken ourselves completely out of the cycle of life that our ancestors had invented for us called "agriculture". We should call our current food culture, "fossil-culture". There is a principle of the ancient Africans called "Maat" which relates to harmony, truth, balance and reciprocity. In other words life is a balance between forces. If you get the forces out of balance then death follows.
The cycle of life goes like this: the sunís energy is transformed by green plants into protein. This protein can then be consumed by animals and humans to provide energy and the building blocks for their bodies. At one time humans spent much of their daily life hunting, fishing and gathering from the untamed environment. Then according to the "myths" of the ancients, Ausar and Auset discovered both the domestication of animals and the tilling of the earth which we now call "agriculture".
Instead of gathering berries and leaves from distant places, they discovered how to save seeds and plant those seeds close to the house. Instead of hunting wild animals they discovered how to tame and breed animals to stay close to the house. These animals were used to be beasts of burden as well as "food storage facilities". Each animal was a store of plant food transformed into flesh. However, 90% percent of the energy from the plants were lost in the transformation. But since vegetable and fruit crops could not be grown or stored year round, these animals served as a buffer between harvests. In many cases these animals could be grazed on lands not suited for intensive cultivation and therefore made the non-useful land useful.
The animals also provided draft power to pull plows through the soil and their droppings acted as fertilizer, replenishing the soil with some of the nutrients lost by harvesting crops. But now we raise feed for animals on our best agricultural land, then allow the waste from these animals to flow into our streams and rivers. Instead of allowing the animals to work for us, we just eat them up. At one time these animals were sacrificed in sacred ceremonies to show the Creator our thanks for the usefulness of their lives to us. Now we just slaughter them wholesale and grind them up into "mad cow" burgers.
According to Mr. Pfeiffer, "The Green Revolution increased the energy flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times the energy input of traditional agriculture. In the most extreme cases, energy consumption by agriculture has increased 100 fold or more.
In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994). Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows:
31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer, 19% for the operation of field machinery, 16% for transportation, 13% for irrigation, 08% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed), 05% for crop drying, 05% for pesticide production, 08% miscellaneous.
Energy costs for packaging, refrigeration, transportation to retail outlets, and household cooking are not considered in these figures. "
He further writes that, "The US food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks."
When the fossil fuel stocks are gone, so will the energy that feeds modern agriculture and people will be left to again derive their energy from the sun. However, by then they will be situated in places and systems that will not allow for the capture of that sun. Humans will be stacked in cities and land will be stacked in the hands of multinational corporations. The top soil would have washed away into the rivers and the water table would have dropped below the reach of irrigation wells.
The old movie "Solent Green" showed how the future world might solve this dilemma by recycling humans into protein wafers. The research and even the movies show the consequences of our behavior. The question is "who is willing to change their behavior so that the world can live?"
The science has been there that shows that the western or "white" way of civilization is not sustainable. Black folks must make a determination as to whether they can trust so-called white folk to change their behavior. In ancient Kemet (Egypt) we called these so-called white people "Kheftiu" which meant "backward" or those "left behind". We represented them by a determinative (picture) of a man on his knees committing suicide. There is a picture of this hieroglyph in my book "Amen: The Secret Waters of the Great Pyramid."
Black folk should also know that the pyramids of Egypt were not tombs, but a part of a water irrigation-purification system used by the living and not the dead. We came from a tradition of both agriculture and balanced development, but have fallen into the hands of a suicidal maniac. We must now decide which is worst: a slow but guaranteed death, or a struggle that may lead to liberation and the rerouting of our future.
The Solution? As an individual you can cut back on your meat and fast-food consumption, start a home garden and go back to cooking your own meals. Collectively, we need to organize and set up buying clubs or cooperatives in the cities to purchase directly from the farmers to protect the farmers from the multinational corporations. We need to think about getting large areas of land that we can manage and protect for the future of our children as a part of our reparations agenda. "Give us your fast-food money" and support the Agriculture Development Program of the Nation of Islam. Visit us at www.MuhammadFarms.com or you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.